5 ad campaigns that embraced a stupid idea

adam&eveDDB's Richard Brim dropped an incredible statistic into his talk at OFFSET Dublin 2018. The UK spends £18.3 billion on advertising each year, he said. Of that, 4 per cent is remembered positively, 7 per cent is remembered negatively, and 89 per cent isn’t noticed or remembered at all. 

So how do you create work that's part of the 11 per cent that makes an impact? adam&eveDDB, where Brim is chief creative officer, has built a reputation for crafting adverts that make people sit up and take notice. Here at at OFFSET, Brim took to the stage to share some insight into how the studio found its success.  

"The fear of generic people laughing at you: that is where we will all fall down," he said. "Sometimes the most stupid ideas are the ones where the magic happens." 

It takes someone – and often it’s not the most senior or experienced person in the room, he said – to pluck up the courage to "share an idea that makes everyone else go, ‘What the fuck?’" And then it takes someone else to take a chance on it and champion it. 

In this article, we look at some of the studio’s biggest ads in recent years – and how they all started with someone suggesting something that was either ridiculously good, or just ridiculous. Here's adam&eveDBB's rules for crafting an ad that people will remember.

01. Don’t start with an advert at all

With its Love/Hate campaign, adam&eveDDB hit on something great. But it was starting to get tired. Cue a big brainstorming meeting where everyone had something to say on how to breathe new life into the idea. Mid-discussion, a junior planner piped up, ‘It must be genetic, right?’ 

Long story short, the studio ended up sponsoring a bone fide research campaign into whether the taste for Marmite was indeed genetically predisposed: the Marmite Gene Project. It ended up in the New Scientist, and had already started gaining serious traction when the studio ran its first TV ad for the campaign.

In the midst of Brexit rows and Tesco threatening to delist the product, the ad prompted a massive uplift in sales. Tesco backed down.

02. Trust in a bonkers idea

The concept behind a recent H&M campaign wasn’t too cohesive when it was first pitched to Brim. “Someone came into my office and just said: 'We want to shoot in Tokyo, we want Grace Jones, and we want a Wham! track'.” 

While Brim didn’t quite know what to make of the idea, he decided to trust that his team were on to something magical. While Grace Jones said ‘no’, Naomi Campbell and a host of other famous models didn't. 

03. Ignore the brief 

Skittles came to the studio wanting an ad that would appeal to millennials. One brave designer decided to ignore the brief entirely, instead pitching a campaign centred around Pride: during the festival, there was only one rainbow that mattered, they argued. So how about Skittles got rid of its rainbow for the weekend? 

The idea won over the studio, but when it came to getting the “very, very conservative” Mars on board, things got trickier. At first, they got a hard ‘no’. The idea was reshaped into an open letter from Skittles to Pride, to be published in the Evening Standard and Pride’s own magazine. 

Then Mars was offered a colour-drained Skittles float for the Pride parade, and the idea for printing special white packs to go alongside it was looked into. The following year, the campaign took off for good, with Tesco adopting the campaign as its support of the Pride festival. Totally off brief, but hugely successful.

04. Lead, don't follow

Typically, FIFA trends follow what’s going on in the real-world game. But for its FIFA 18 ad campaign, adam&eveDDB decided to try and do things the other way round. 

It developed a brand new move dubbed ‘el tornado’ – a seamless dragback, flick, and spinning volley – and against the odds, managed to get EA Sports to introduce it into the computer game. 

The twist was that the real-world players would have to prove they could land 'el tornado' before their in-game avatars would be able to do it. And the pro footballers really went for it, with the studio even issuing FIFA certificates to those who proved their skills.

05. Take a risk with your biggest client

The work that's gained the studio the most acclaim has been its long running relationship with John Lewis. Each year, adam&eveDDB is in charge of the store's high-profile Christmas campaign. And as you’d expect, each year the pressure ramps up. The 2017 Christmas ad started, much like the H&M campaign, with a not-entirely-complete concept. 

“Someone pitched the idea of a load of rabbits on a trampoline, with a snowy backdrop. It would make a nice visual, they said. Then someone suggested that rabbits were’t quite right, but what about foxes?“ 

Eventually, Buster the Boxer was born. “I stood back and looked at what we were filming for our biggest, most important client… And it was a load of woodland animals bouncing on a trampoline,” Brim laughed. “That was a definite ‘what the fuck’ moment.”

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Ruth Hamilton

Ruth spent a couple of years as Deputy Editor of Creative Bloq, and has also either worked on or written for almost all of the site's former and current print titles, from Computer Arts to ImagineFX. She now spends her days reviewing mattresses and hiking boots as the Outdoors and Wellness editor at T3.com, but continues to write about design on a freelance basis in her spare time.